The Tannenbaum-Schmidt Leadership Continuum

Video Transcript

Do you lead with authority or do you favor a more flexible approach?

Some leaders like to tell their teams exactly what to do. Others are much more "hands off." The rest use a style somewhere in between. 

So, how do you know which way of leading is right for you?

The "contingency" approach argues that your leadership style should be based on the particular situation or circumstances you're facing, and not on your personal preferences.

Contingency theorists Robert Tannenbaum and Warren Schmidt identified seven leadership styles. They run in a continuum, from rigid authority at one end through to full freedom for your team at the other. Let's look at each style in turn.

The leader that Tells makes the decision and expects the team to follow. This can be useful if you have a lot of new starters to manage. But continued use of this style can soon become frustrating, especially to team members that are highly experienced. So, be sure to use it only when absolutely necessary.

The leader that Sells makes the decision, but provides a rationale for it. The decision won't be changed, but the team feels that its needs are being considered.

The leader that Suggests outlines the decision, includes a rationale, and asks if team members have any questions. They know that they've participated in the decision, and this helps to build trust.

The leader that Consults proposes a decision and then invites input and discussion, which allows the team to influence the final outcome. This style acknowledges that the team has valuable insight to offer.

The leader that Joins presents the problem and asks the team for suggestions about how to resolve it. Decision making is a collaborative process, and the team feels valued and trusted.

The leader that Delegates outlines the problem and allows the team to find solutions. The team makes a final decision, but the leader remains accountable for the outcome.

Finally, the leader that Abdicates asks the team to define the problem for itself, and decide how to solve it. The team makes the final decision, but the leader is still responsible for its outcome, be it a success or a failure.

The seven leadership styles broadly correspond to a team's level of development. As trust and competency grow, so does the amount of freedom that the team members want, and that leaders feel comfortable providing.

To learn more about The Tannenbaum-Schmidt Leadership Continuum and how to choose the leadership style that best suits you, read the article that accompanies this video.

*Graphic representation of the Tannenbaum-Schmidt Continuum originally published in Harvard Business Review. From "How to Choose a Leadership Pattern," by Robert Tannenbaum and Warren H. Schmidt, May 1873. Copyright © 1973 by the Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation; all rights reserved.

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